Science and origins
Religion and origins
In Six Days
Why 50 Scientists Choose
to Believe in Creation
First published in In Six Days
Jeremy L. Walter, mechanical engineering
Dr. Walter is head of the Engineering Analysis and Design Department within the Energy Science and Power Systems Division at the Applied Research Laboratory (ARL) at Pennsylvania State University. He holds a B.S. in mechanical engineering with highest distinction, an M.S. in mechanical engineering, and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, all from Pennsylvania State University. He was a 1975 recipient of a prestigious National Science Foundation Fellowship, funding graduate study at the institution of his choice. At ARL, Dr. Walter has been the leader for a number of undersea propulsion development projects for the U.S. Navy. His research involves multidisciplinary development and testing of advanced air-independent engines and thermal power systems for various autonomous undersea vehicles.
They can’t be wrong, can they?
In 1961, President John Kennedy set a national goal for the United States to land a man on the moon before the decade was over, and in the summer of 1969 Neil Armstrong made his famous “giant leap for mankind” onto the lunar soil. In the midst of severe social unrest, science and technology seemed to provide an island of stability to a nation caught in internal tension, an unpopular war in Vietnam, and the deep freeze of the Cold War. “New and improved” became the harbinger of what was expected in technology, and harnessing the secrets of nature for man’s benefit was the engine to propel us into a hopeful future.
This milieu was the incubator for many careers in science and engineering, and so it was for that of the author. Public education introduced the sciences of the space program, but also proclaimed as fact the 4½-billion–year age of the earth and that life had gradually evolved over millions of years from a single-cell organism, supposedly formed by chance in a primeval ocean. Students were compelled to accept the evolutionary model of earth history, as is the case for most people educated in this century. The ancient writings of Genesis were relegated as outdated and allegorical, and most Christian students reconciled an immature faith in God and the Bible with a casually contrived version of the “day-age” interpretation of the creation account. The days of Genesis were assumed to somehow represent the ages or stages of cosmic development that the scientists were now beginning to understand and describe more fully in our modern world.
For multitudes today, the story is the same. The implicit authority of the classroom combines with modern technological achievements to validate the “scientific” models of origins and the great antiquity of the universe. Genesis is viewed as myth, if not fairy tale, and our concept of truth is limited to the empirically derived and subjectively interpreted. But we need to ask the fundamental question mouthed by Pilate, “What is truth?” and determine the role that science plays in the overall development of truth.
The discussion in the following paragraphs takes a look at the nature of science, and how true science does not contradict God’s inscription on stone that “in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them” (Exod. 20:11).
What is science?
Many intelligent people are thoroughly convinced that science has proven the earth to be billions of years old. How can they be wrong? The misconception builds on a neglect of the basic nature of “science” and a natural desire for moral autonomy. Actually, the age of the earth can be neither proved nor disproved by science. Scientific evidence can be compiled to support one model of earth history as compared to another, but such work amounts to a feasibility study, not proof.
Science is the human enterprise of seeking to describe accurately and quantitatively the nature and processes of our universe through observation, hypothesis, and experimental validation. Certain axiomatic principles must be accepted by faith for this method to be valid, the first of which is the expectation of order in the universe. A specific corollary of the order principle is the law of causality, or “cause and effect” relationships. This law states that one cause can have many effects, but no effect can be quantitatively greater or qualitatively superior to its cause.1 Observed effects are assumed to have causes because of this law, and are not treated as purely random or chance occurrences. The inquisitive mind will speculate on the cause of an observed effect and then seek to recreate and test the cause experimentally. That is the essence of the so-called scientific method.
Note, however, that an observation is always an action of the present, not of the past. Additionally, the observer must recognize that observations are to varying degrees indirect, through an instrument of some sort that may distort his perception. For instance, our eyes are optical instruments that receive incident light, optically focus that light on the retina, which in turn converts the image to a complex system of electrical impulses, transmitted to the brain by the optic nerve. If the transmission of the image from an object to our brain is distorted at any point along the way, our visual perception will be incorrect. Some optical illusions are actually misinterpreted in the brain because of preconceptions, without any optical or electrical distortion. All observations must be similarly analyzed and scrutinized to develop accurate perceptions. The farther removed in time or distance an indirect observation is, the greater the opportunity for distorted perception.
Applying the foregoing discussion to the age of the earth, we recognize that we have no human record of observed events from great antiquity, but rather interpretations of recent observations of present realities. Often the establishment of a great age is built on observations from a very great distance or developed through tedious indirect means. Evidence contradictory to the hypothesis is either suppressed or ignored because of preconceived assumptions. Even the light arriving from distant stars is a present reality, not a direct observation of the past. These observations are of effects for which various hypothetical causes have been proposed. Those causes are sometimes gradual processes that would require very long times to produce the present state.
By way of illustration, consider geologic formations in the Great Basin of the western United States. The vast horizontal layers of hydraulically deposited sedimentary rock are said to take long periods of time to accumulate, based on the assumption that the rate of deposition was always similar to that observed today in a typical river delta. This concept of uniformity may seem like a reasonable starting point when considered abstractly, but no steady-state river flow could possibly cover such a vast area; neither would it produce the violently buried and mangled bodies found fossilized in many rocks of the region. The present-day erosion conditions applied uniformly in the past could not account for the unusual formations of the Grand Canyon, mesas, badlands, and other canyons. By contrast, the catastrophic processes observed during and following the eruption of Mount St. Helens in the Cascades of Washington state produced a scale model of the Grand Canyon in a very brief period of time. Sediments were rapidly deposited and then suddenly eroded by pyroclastic steam, water, and mudflows in the area northwest of the summit. Now the canyon walls resemble others that are assumed to be of great age, even though they are known to be [merely decades] old.2
The point to be recognized is that science deals with observations of present states and processes, and can only discuss the prehistoric past. In the example of geologic formations of the Great Basin, the assumption of uniformity can be contrasted with a model of catastrophic tectonic, volcanic, and hydraulic activity that would accompany a global cataclysm such as the great Flood of Genesis. The observed eruption of Mount St. Helens demonstrated that rapid processes can produce effects commonly believed to require long periods of time, and thus gives credence, if not preference, to the concept that the earth’s geology did not require long periods of time to develop. Many puzzling formations can only be explained through cataclysmic forces. Similarly, other methods of estimating the age of the earth or of the universe apply assumptions about processes and rates that extend into the distant past. Regardless of how apparently compelling such dating methods may appear to be, the fact remains that they are built on assumptions that must be critically questioned and evaluated.
All events of the past (even the recent past) are best reconstructed from the testimony of witnesses and the accumulation of corroborating evidence. That is the basis of the system of jurisprudence. Science can contribute by determining what is possible, but cannot infallibly reconstruct the past. There are definite implications about prodigious age, however, that can be gleaned from applying known principles from the laws of science. We will now consider some of the corroborating evidence for the Creator’s testimony.
Thermodynamics, demons and evolution
The law of causality logically leads to the conclusion that human beings (an effect that has the qualities of life, intellect, emotion, and volition) should have a cause which is greater in quantity and qualitatively superior in life, intelligence, emotion and will. In spite of such basic arguments, naturalistic evolution claims that the forces of nature and the passing of time are sufficient to produce the order and complexity of life without such a cause. Do the observed laws of nature support that claim? What is known about the general effects of the passing of time? The implications of the science of thermodynamics were instrumental in convincing this author that long periods of time are not only unnecessary, but also lethal to the theories of gradual and natural development of intelligent design.
Applying the laws of thermodynamics, especially as they relate to fluid flows and the conversion of energy into useful work in heat engines, is an important part of mechanical engineering. However, the laws of thermodynamics (usually numbered zero through three) have broader and more philosophical implications that are relevant to the study of origins and the development of order and complexity. The four classic laws can be logically derived from fewer general principles,3 but the discussion in this context will be limited to the classical first and second laws.
The first law is one of conservation, and implies that the substance of the universe (matter and energy) is a constant. The second law additionally constrains the possible states that a given system can attain by a defined process, precluding perpetual motion machines and the spontaneous creation of the “availability” of energy. All real processes are shown to be “irreversible” by the implications of the second law, resulting in a decrease in energy available to effect further processes. Alternatively stated, real processes result in a net increase in the “entropy” of the universe, a property defined in thermodynamics as movement toward a final stable equilibrium where all processes cease.
The implications of these two laws are profound. The first law states clearly that no matter or energy is currently being added to our universe, and the second law states that, given infinite time, the universe will come to final equilibrium, where no processes can occur. That final state has been described as a heat-death of the universe. Since that condition has not yet been reached, the universe must have a beginning. These conclusions are perfectly compatible with the biblical declaration that all things were created in six days, and then God ceased doing the labor of physical creation (first law) (Gen. 2:1–2).
Furthermore, the fall of Satan and man brought about “the curse” which is the cause for the earth and the heavens to “wear out like a garment” (Ps. 102:26) and now “the whole creation groans and suffers” (Rom. 8:22) (second law). The second law of thermodynamics essentially precludes the spontaneous development of the earth’s ecosystem or life itself. In engineering, we know that heat engines do not develop spontaneously, and without a heat engine, no efficient useful work is produced by the flow of heat. In addition, without both a source of work and a refrigeration machine, no heat will flow from a cold place to a warm place. Likewise, without the engine of reproduction (the genetic recipe book and the miracle of the womb), not even the material aspects of man could be built by raw power.
The problem is worse for the immaterial, since man’s conscious and spiritual aspects defy strict scientific definition, much less a natural process of development.
The required patterns and engines of reproduction cannot be accounted for by spontaneous generation, and the passing of long periods of time cannot constitute or facilitate an independent cause for the development of human bodies, aptitude or ability. The rule of history is not one of continual creation, but one of extinction, as specific creatures become unable to survive the decay of the earth’s ecosystem and are eliminated from the planet forever.
In spite of the implications of the classical second law, many evolutionists believe the solution to the threat of the second law is to be found in statistical thermodynamics. Evolution is believed to take advantage of the statistical variation in molecular and genetic properties, and can selectively favor only those which promote the development of greater order. Enter the Maxwell demon. Although not a literal demon as found in the Bible, this troublesome imaginary character was conceived by James Clerk Maxwell in about 1891. In his classic mental experiment, the demon is theoretically able to defeat the second law by intelligently controlling the passage of individual molecules of gas through a partition that divides a sealed and insulated vessel. By strategically opening and closing a tiny door, he could measure and select only high-energy molecules for passage in one direction while simultaneously allowing low-energy molecules to pass in the opposite direction. The demon could then produce a final state where high-energy gas has been collected in one part of the vessel and low-energy gas is in the remainder, without having added any energy to the system. The potential for doing useful work has been intelligently created, or the net entropy decreased, solely by harnessing the statistical variation in the individual molecules.
The apparent contradiction to the second law was resolved in 1929 by Szilard in a paper in which he showed that the process of detecting the energy level and operating the door would consume at least as much energy as that gained by the passage of a molecule.4 The statistical distribution of energy among the molecules could not be used, even by a precocious demon, to create order and potential energy. The second law stands, and the Maxwell demon fails.
In naturalistic evolution, life is believed to have originated as high fluxes of energy passed through a chemical soup of fortuitous composition. The problem here is much more difficult than that faced by the Maxwell demon, because life requires structures of incredible complexity, not just high energy levels. The most basic processes of living things are accomplished by molecular engines as complex as man’s greatest inventions. Protein synthesis and DNA replication are marvelous examples of life’s inner workings, and a being much more capable than the Maxwell demon is required to assemble the necessary components and start the first cell functioning. The presumed high-energy fluxes do not provide structure or intelligence any more than the proverbial explosion in a print shop will produce a novel.
At this point, it is instructive to consider that Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick both recognized this difficulty and then contradicted it as he contemplated Life Itself.5 He stated that the complexities of life could not “have arisen by pure chance,” but required a replication mechanism to preserve beneficial mutations as they occurred. However, the origin of the replication mechanism is never identified as anything other than chance. The combination of replication and mutation effectively becomes the Crick demon that produces “the marvelous capacity of such a system to improve itself.” Aware of modern life’s nearly infinite complexity, Crick then concluded that the earth was not old enough at 4½ billion years to have had life gradually evolve completely on this planet. Instead of turning to the great First Cause of the Bible, he preferred the “directed panspermia” concept, which placed the origin of life long, long ago and far, far away on some other planet in some other galaxy.
Interestingly, in this theory, intelligent life had successfully evolved there, even though such an outcome was considered too difficult to achieve on this planet. This foreign civilization then sent the seeds of life in the form of DNA replicators into the universe aboard sophisticated rocket ships looking for a good place to restart the evolutionary process. One such rocket apparently found earth, and here we are!
Notice the progression in Crick’s reasoning: it starts from the impossibly improbable and ends with a fantastic imaginary world far away and long ago. Sufficient time and distance implicitly legitimize what otherwise would be impossibility. Ironically, the passage of time is shown by the second law to be neither an ally nor an engine of creation, but rather an ogre of destruction and death. In tenacious commitment to atheism, naturalistic evolution fashions the marriage of the false modern gods of Mother Earth and Father Time as an inferior substitute for the great and awesome Creator of the Scriptures. We would all do well to carefully consider these basic implications of ascribing great age to the universe and realize that our faith commitments greatly influence the development of scientific concepts. The authors of one thermodynamics text give lucid testimony of their conclusion on this subject:
Quite obviously it is impossible to give conclusive answers to these questions on the basis of the second law of thermodynamics alone. However, the authors see the second law of thermodynamics as man’s description of the past and continuing work of a creator, who also holds the answer to the future destiny of man and the universe.6
Truth adrift on the postmodern sea
The discussion so far establishes from basic principles that science cannot prove the universe to be of great age, and that prodigious age would in fact be detrimental rather than beneficial to the development of complexity and order. The fact remains, however, that in published books and journals today, many detailed and sophisticated discussions of factual data exist for both sides of the age issue. Some seek to establish great age, whereas others show the earth, comets and moon to be less than 10,000 years in age. The interpretation of these observed data hinges solidly on the concepts of truth held by the investigators, not the facts themselves. Faith commitments to either human reason or biblical revelation influence what hypotheses are considered and how data is accepted or rejected. This author sees the evidence for a young earth as overwhelmingly compelling, but many have such faith in particular arguments for great age that young-earth evidence is dismissed as erroneous.
Our world suffers from the false notion established during the modern era that reality and truth are limited to the empirical, and that man’s knowledge and reasoning are our supreme guide. The concept of a living, volitional, personal and loving First Cause is willfully rejected, even though it is completely compatible with both science and the Bible. The need for a supernatural beginning of the universe is implied by the laws of thermodynamics, and clearly declared in the Scriptures. However, the Bible also states that it is “by faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (Heb. 11:3). Biblical faith cannot be a matter of formal proof, but neither is it a blind leap. Biblical faith is a confident and convinced trust in the testimony of the One who is both Creator and Redeemer. As His creatures, we need to exercise our faculties in humble submission to His revelation to see Him as our standard for truth.
The standard of truth that grew to dominance in the middle of the 20th century was built on a naturalistic objectivism that displaced theism. Academic institutions adopted the idea that open, objective debate in refereed publications would refine and build our understanding of truth, and the open debate does work well as long as concepts are observable and testable, and “referees” remain open-minded. However, if the mainstream academic community accepts an unproven concept as fact and excludes alternative thinking by decree, then the potential for error to be systematically preserved and promoted is institutionalized. In the opinion of the author, such unfortunate error has taken firm footing in the popular cosmogonies of geology, astronomy and biology, as illustrated in our discussion about the nature of science and the laws of thermodynamics.
During the last decades of the 20th century, the modern worldview of truth based on objective empiricism in science has slid into a sea of churning subjectivity. The atheism of the naturalistic worldview disallowed the existence of a supreme, omniscient being, and quite logically led to the conclusion that no human can know absolute truth. The only remaining absolute is that there are no absolutes, and we are admonished to accept all views as valid concepts of truth. This new perspective is the so-called postmodern worldview, and the progenitor of the popular pluralism and tolerance advocated today. Pilate’s cynical question “What is truth?” now echoes around the world, since people have no anchor to tell them what truth is.
However, if an Almighty Creator God exists, His creation has value and purpose based purely on His own counsel and will, and His creatures would be of special value and interest to Him. His omniscience guarantees perfect design and knowledge, and He could provide a standard for all that is true. As a loving and personal being, it is reasonable that He would desire our fellowship and choose to reveal His purposes to us. The Bible claims to be His special revelation, and teaches exactly those truths about God. Many have found the Scriptures to be the marvelous work of One who could predict the future, transform the heart, and who lovingly revealed His two great works of creation and redemption. The revelation given by the loving One who knows all things would logically be both truthful and clearly communicated.
It is here that the watershed is found. What do the Scriptures say? Taking the most obvious meaning of the language, the Scriptures teach in Genesis that our universe was created fully functioning in six 24-hour days. Taken by faith, these words represent the testimony of the Creator himself, who made all things perfectly according to His own choosing. The principles and observations of true science do not contradict a literal interpretation of Genesis 1, but in fact offer support for the creation of all things in six days!
References and notes
- Henry M. Morris, The Biblical Basis for Modern Science, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, p. 36–37, 1984.
- Steven A. Austin, Mount St. Helens and Catastrophism, Impact, Article No. 157, Institute for Creation Research, El Cajon, CA, July 1986.
Steven A. Austin, Mount St. Helens, Explosive Evidence for Catastrophe, documentary video, Institute for Creation Research, El Cajon, CA, 1989.
- George N. Hatsopoulos and Joseph H. Keenan, Principles of General Thermodynamics, John Wiley and Sons, Inc., New York, p. 368, 1965.
- Ibid., p. xxxviii.
- Francis Crick, Life Itself, Its Origin and Nature, Simon and Schuster, New York, p. 52&8211;55, 1981.
- Gordon J. Van Wylen and Richard E Sonntag, Fundamentals of Classical Thermodynamics, 2nd edition, SI Version, John Wiley and Sons, Inc., New York, p. 243, 1978.